BKIRKI, Lebanon: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai warned Tuesday against imposing political reforms on Syria from abroad, recalling that reforms imposed on Iraq from abroad had led to the country’s destruction.
Addressing a pro-government Syrian delegation from the coastal city of Tartous that conveyed their Christmas greetings in Bkirki, Rai also stressed that the Lebanese and Syrian peoples are “one people living in two separate countries” – remarks apparently aimed at allaying long-standing fears by mainly Christian parties about Syria’s plans to merge with its smaller neighbor.
The Maronite patriarch also met with the Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, with whom he held a closed-door meeting that centered on the nine-month turmoil in Syria. Ali did not speak to reporters after the meeting.
Rai said he hoped 2012 would be “a year of peace and love. Peace in Syria and peace in Lebanon and throughout the Arab world, which is living today the labor pains” of the Arab Spring.
“We are with you, standing on the side of all Christians and Muslims in Syria. We repeat that we are one people in two neighboring countries. Everyone is on board the ship. Either everyone is safe, or else everyone will drown,” Rai told the delegation, which included lawyers.
The patriarch reiterated his support for political reforms demanded by Syrian protesters in their nine-month uprising, but fell short of backing their call for the ouster of embattled President Bashar Assad.
Addressing the delegation, Rai said: “We are following you up everyday in our prayers and our solidarity with your pains. We are looking forward with you to all necessary constitutional reforms that Syria needs. I know that the president began these reforms in March.”
He added that he backed the implementation of reforms in all Arab states that have been swept by popular protests from inside those countries, while issuing a warning about reforms imposed by external parties.
“We are looking forward with all the peoples so these peoples can reform from inside what needs to be reformed. Even our human body is made in such a way that it can reform itself by itself. Reforms that come from abroad will ‘destroy’ more than they will reform. Reforms ought to come from inside,” Rai said.
“We, of course, wish that reforms sought by the Syrian people, the Lebanese people, the Egyptian people and also in Iraq will be achieved,” he said, adding: “Unfortunately, we have seen the reforms that came from outside Iraq, and destroyed the country. God knows how [the crisis in Iraq] will end.”
He said that since the world is changing and developing, the political authorities in the Arab world must keep pace with the developments and explore the appropriate formulas for reforms to meet their peoples’ demands for democratic change.
“The countries need reforms. This is called democracy. Democracy means the need to listen to the people’s voice for their needs,” Rai said. He called on Arab states to close ranks to cope with a changing world.
“We are looking forward to see in the Arab world more solidarity and brotherhood so that our Arab world can emerge from its huge tragedies,” the patriarch added.